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George Carlin once joked that when you get to Heaven, you get back everything you ever lost. By Carlin’s impression (NSFW), Saint Peter or whoever else would greet him at the pearly gates with every item he’d misplaced:

“Here you are: seventy-nine pairs of sunglasses, two hundred and twelve cigarette lighters, four thousand nine hundred and eighty-three ballpoint pens.”

By his own account, Carlin was a prolific note-taker—in one of his final interviews, he described himself as “a writer who performs his own material.” That’s one reason for the high number of lost pens, but of course, he was also poking fun at the crappiness and disposability of a typical ballpoint pen. It’s the kind of thing you never keep. 

There are two problems with cheap ballpoint pens: (1) they’re crappy pens and (2) they’re everywhere.

They’re built to be uniform, disposable, mess-free, and dirt-cheap—and by this design, it’s near-impossible for them to be quality writing instruments too. Yet, because they’re ubiquitous, we’ve gotten used to them, and our handwritten work has suffered. Kids nowadays go straight from crayons and markers to No. 2 pencils and Bic ballpoints (hell, we did that).

But what’s the alternative?

Investing in an old-timey inkwell and feather quill? Spending hundreds of dollars on a fragile-looking, oddly-shaped fountain pen?

Fountain pen and Code and Quill notebook

Photo Credit:  @norwegianplanner

Nay. What if we told you that a $40 investment could   permanently change how much you love writing by hand? Even more—what if we told you that using a fountain pen could save you money over time, and that you might someday consider a $300 pen “totally worth it”?

If you’re happy with by-the-box pens and you never want for more, you can bail out now.

Otherwise, let’s talk about fountain pens.

parts of a fountain pen

First, an anatomy lesson—a fountain pen’s main parts are:

  • the barrel
  • the nib
  • the ink reservoir

There are other details, too, but we don’t need to cover them in detail here (you’ll learn best with a pen of your own, anyway).

The Barrel

The barrel is the term for the main exterior body of the pen; it’s what you see and hold. Like with cars, for instance, what’s pretty to you, comfortable to you, and suitable for your needs are all matters of taste.

The grip is, of course, the section of the barrel that is most important for comfort in your fingers.

fountain pen writing on a code&quill notebook

One of the other properties you’ll notice right away, and develop preferences for, is the weight of the pen; some people prefer heft, others want the pen feather-light. A starter pen will likely be lighter.

(NOTE: A pen is nothing without the paper it writes on! Do your pen (and yourself) a favor and check out a Code&Quill notebook—100GSM, acid-free paper, perfect for writing your brilliant ideas on.)


As for barrel size and ergonomics, you may have to just eyeball it, especially if you’re browsing online. However, as long as the pictures, description, and reviews roughly match what you’d want, don’t sweat the decision too much; after all, you need to try one pen before you can compare it with others.

We'll talk about where to buy your first fountain pen a little bit later in this post!

The Nib

The nib is the pointy section of the pen, where the ink comes out, and it’s the nib that makes a fountain pen what it is. This is because the nib controls the precise flow and dispersion of ink—and it’s the part of the pen upon which you apply pressure as its user.

Lamy Safari nib

When you apply pressure to the nib correctly, it opens a small channel from the ink reservoir, which is gently pressurized and thus continues to bleed ink for as long as you press down.

The ink begins flowing at a spot near the middle of the nib, then flows along a fine groove towards the tip (visible above).

If the groove is thinner and the tip sharper, less ink will reach the page and you’ll have a finer stroke; if the groove is wider and the tip broader, more ink will reach the page and you’ll have a broader stroke.

two fountain pen nibs

Photo Credit: @mnmlscholar

For our purposes, we can simplify nibs to four types:

  • extra fine
  • fine
  • medium
  • broad

Most starter pens are offered in a selection like this. Different strokes for different folks, but we recommend fine or extra fine to start, since those are most similar in ink flow to the pens you already use.

Nibs are also the principal source of a fountain pen’s sophistication; steel works perfectly fine for starter pens, but some of the most refined (and bougier) pens have iridium-tipped or gold nibs. Hence, the very large price tags on some fountain pens.

the nib of a fountain pen

Aside from being functionally different, in terms of the way they deliver ink to the page, fountain pens also feel different because of their nibs.

Unlike a typical pen, you can’t hold a fountain pen at any angle or use any amount of pressure. The nib only opens in one direction, and it’s much more pressure-sensitive; too little pressure and no ink comes out, but too much and it flows generously, and you feel yourself scratching the pages harshly.

You become distinctly aware of the slight give to the nib, the way it bends gently under pressure—and once you’ve gotten into rhythm, it feels good. You’re more conscious of what you’re doing, your strokes look better, and you get the sense that you’re cutting grooves in meaning just as much as you are putting ink on a page.

Put simply, it’s this tactile experience that makes fountain pens worth the fuss.

To raise an argument we’ve made before: you can justify $40 (or more, depending) for a fountain pen when it’s something that improves your experience and quality of expression while performing your essential working, thinking, and creative functions. 

fountain pen nib, buy your first one

The Ink Reservoir

We use the general term “reservoir” because there are a few different ways fountain pens can hold ink. For most starter pens, you won’t have to deal with ink manually, since they often use disposable cartridges which mostly take care of themselves. In many cases, the cartridges are proprietary to that model of pen, but you can also purchase converters which enable the cartridges you have to be refilled with other ink.

fountain pen ink resevoir

Photo Credit: @mnmlscholar

In other cases, the pen will have its own permanent reservoir which has to be refilled.

Admittedly, this is a disadvantage to fountain pens: you have to deal with ink. Fortunately, many fountain pen designers are quite clever with the mechanisms of ink flow. In the TWSBI 580AL, for instance—pictured below on the left and elsewhere in this article—there’s a twist action at the bottom of the pen that causes a vacuum-sealed chamber to draw or expel, like a syringe, allowing you to “suck up” ink come time to refill.

Two fountain pens

Sure, it’s a little messy to have to deal with ink.

But once you notice the tactile difference of a fountain pen, you’ll notice the inks are more impressive, too. You can buy all different sorts, including some crazy stuff like invisible ink and scented ink; you can choose from broader and richer colors and with any number of properties you prefer.

As you’re getting started, just stick with the cartridges—but know that this is what you can work up to if you enjoy the difference. 

Where to Start

There are a number of fountain pens available for $40 or less, but one standout is the Lamy Safari (starting around $23 on Amazon). It’s perfect for newbies—it’s simple, it comes in a variety of colors, it has replaceable cartridges, and most importantly, it works well (hence its recommendation from Reddit). We’ve been happy using them at our desks every day in the Code&Quill office.

If you wanted some other options for comparison, consider a look at...

  • Platinum Preppy ($7 on Amazon)
  • Pilot Metropolitan (around $18 here)
  • Kaweco Classic Sport (around $26 here)
  • TWSBI 580 (around $50 here)


#jinhao159 #fountainpen #noodlers #codeandquill

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If you'd like a good place to buy fountain pens and any of the extra gear you might want, check out Goulet Pen Company. They've got everything you need to get started, from the equipment to the know-how and quality customer service. 

Why Bother?

At Code&Quill, we’re big believers in investing in your gear. Just as the fashionable invest their spare money in clothes—in quality garments that fit their styles and personalities—we like spending our spare money on quality tools, toys, and equipment.

By the way, if you’re still skeptical about spending $40 on a pen, scroll to the Addendum where we lay out how fountain pens aren’t such a splurge in the long run.

We’ll skimp on other things, but we’ll spend $30 or more on a pen.

We’ll spend $20 on a sturdy, dark, handsome hardcover notebook or its lily-white companion.

A shameless plug, sure, but in fairness, we were spending that amount on notebooks long before Code&Quill started, for the simple reason that we valued our notebooks as more than sums of paper.

We wanted them to be good notebooks. The pages of a good notebook aren’t like other pages; they’re not suited for endless schoolhouse repetition or fueling the copy machine. The notebook, at its best, holds more than notes; it holds complete thoughts, ideas, and impressions.

The pen, at its best, does more than deliver ink; it helps you find what you’re trying to write.

Code&Quill notebook with fountain pen example

So if it’s true that in Heaven you get back everything you ever lost, we’ll each have a shoebox or two of cheap writing utensils from our younger years. But if Saint Peter or whoever else asks why so few, and not the thousands of Bics he usually gives back, we’ll just grin, reach into our pockets, and each produce a weathered barrel with a funny-looking point. 

Addendum: Cost Economics of Fountain Pens

There’s just one last matter to tie up: can you really justify $30 or $40, or more, on a single pen?

Let’s do a little bit of math. Before switching over to fountain pens, we favored rollerballs like the Pilot Precise V5, which run about $20 per dozen. Let’s assume that your standards are at least high enough that you don’t enjoy using the cheapest ballpoints, and that you might therefore spend a similar amount per pen—a dollar and change each.

Notebooks for creative professionals | Code&Quill

Assume further that you’re a student, a professional, a creative person, or some combination. You could easily finish a box of a dozen pens every six months, or roughly one pen every two weeks—given normal use, breakages, and loss.

That’s two dozen pens per year, or $40+ per year in our case.

Probably you see our point already. With the same money, you can get a quality fountain pen and some extra ink, and you’ll be enjoying yourself more with every letter you write.

Meanwhile, with virtually any disposable pen, even a nicer one like the Precise V5, it will write okay until it inevitably breaks and leaks, or until the nib somehow gets screwed up. (Again, it’s difficult to imagine designing a pen that’s both disposable and ideal for writing. They seem at odds.)

The following year, with your annual “pen budget,” you can buy a second pen, some more ink, and maybe an extra nib or two. At this point, you don’t really need pens anymore. You’re set indefinitely; anything you choose to buy is just ink refills or a hobby purchase.

(Meanwhile, of course, you’ve been having way more fun than the other chumps.)


Of course, this makes one crucial assumption: that you won’t lose or abuse your fountain pen.

That might seem like a bad assumption, given how we treat other writing instruments. But, actually, that’s precisely the point: we treat disposable items disposably and personal items personally.

When you buy your pen, it becomes one of your tools, one of your personal effects. You might be surprised at how strongly you identify with it, and how you suddenly treat it with greater respect. Accidents still happen, sure—but you won’t be throwing your pen around, you won’t be idly leaving it places, and if you lend it to someone, you definitely won’t let it leave your sight.

Ready to take the plunge? We'd have a hard time believing you'd be sorry if you invested in one of these quality writing tools, but we'd love to hear about your experience in the comments!

 (NOTE: A pen is nothing without the paper it writes on! Do your pen (and yourself) a favor and check out a Code&Quill notebook—100GSM, acid-free paper, perfect for writing your brilliant ideas on.)


On this blog, it always feels risky to talk about technology because there's a chance we'll doom ourselves to irrelevance. But doesn't risk make things fun?

The latest tech thingy we're showcasing is called Calligraphr. It's a website that allows you to transform your real handwriting into a fully-functional computer font. And because handwriting is (indirectly but still) a part of our business, we were damn curious to know how it'd turn out. 

Short answer: it turns out well!


The longer answer is the rest of this post. We'll walk through the whole hand-to-font process, start to finish, so that you can see how it's done for yourself. (Just be careful... you might also be witnessing how robots start forging our signatures.)


Step 1: Start at

Complete the 15-second sign-up process. Same as always. Click the link in their email to confirm your account.

You're wondering: (when) does money get involved? Good question. You can use Calligraphr for free, but a couple extra features are blocked, and any font you create is capped at 75 glyphs.

If you're doing the math, you're noticing that the basic (English) alphabet is 52 glyphs even without digits, punctuation, accented characters, and the other things you forget you write with. You have enough space to start using Calligraphr for free, but there is a noticeable ceiling before you have to pay.

Still, there are two reasons we felt good about paying for it:

(1) They know you're not going to use it forever—and they charge accordingly. You can pay $8 for 1-month access or $24 for 6-month access. We're happy to give them less money—so much that we're featuring them here without even talking to them first.

(2) It's eight bucks. Eight bucks and you get everything we're about to show you. As we mentioned elsewhere, we've all spent dumber money than that


Step 2. Start the App (or Read the Tutorial, Even Though You're Already Reading This One)

Once you confirm your account, you'll be given these options:

While frankly we'd rather you stay on this page, their tutorials are pretty good too. Only seemed fair to mention it since we've sniped a couple of their images.


3. Create a Template

In short: your "template" is the complete set of glyphs that will be included in your font. In Calligraphr, the purpose of the Template screen is to let you pick what you're including in the font you're making. (But don't worry—you can spend as little as 10 seconds if you're impatient or detail-shy.)

Obviously, too, the contents of your template determine which things you're going to need to write out by hand.

You'll notice (on the left) that Calligraphr has put together common glyph sets to save us some trouble. Assuming you're sticking to the free version (or at least making a simple font first), you'll probably want to pick one of the "Minimal" sets listed under Basics. Later, you can explore the deeper and miscellaneous glyph sets to round out your perfect font template.

One last note here: Calligraphr's sets are NOT locked or exclusive. When you're building your template, you can add and subtract whatever glyphs you want, from wherever. The sets just keep an otherwise-huge pile of glyphs organized and speedy. 


Step 4: Print Off Your Templates (the Right Way)

Now it's time to actually put pen to paper and write out all of the glyphs in your template. But, if not painfully obvious already, you will need to be able to print stuff at this juncture—and we'll tell you the right way to do it.



We say "the right way" because, while Calligraphr's printing options are actually smart and useful, the right choices aren't obvious at first. So here's a quick breakdown of what you're seeing above:

File name and format. Up to you.
Size of template cells. Here's where your style of handwriting matters. The "template cells" are the boxes in which you'll be writing each glyph. If you fiddle with the slider, you'll notice there are 7 stops—so we'll refer to Sizes 1 through 7. 
Size 1 is for truly small handwriting—like, narrow rulings seem big to you.
Size 3 is for handwriting "on the small side," but not extremely.
Size 5 is for handwriting "on the large side," but not extremely.
Size 7 is for unusually large handwriting. (We bet the kid-writing example used this.)
Draw helplines? We recommend this box be CHECKED. For one thing, people usually have lines to write on anyway. But mostly, you want to have some way of keeping everything lined up—and if you can't see the baseline, your letters may bob up and down in the scan (fixable afterwards, but it's more work). 
Characters as background? We recommend this box be UNCHECKED. If you check it, each box's glyph is "watermarked" inside the box—and aside from confusing us in our journey, we didn't trust the printed glyphs not to interfere with the scan.


Step 5: While You're Printing Templates, Print a Couple Extras

You're not going to get it right by hand on the first try. Well, actually, you could get it right on the first try—we don't want to dim your shine—but you probably shouldn't even if you could. It'll look cleaner and more confident after a practice run.


Here's the best stuff made for writing by hand.
(Or practicing your "natural font skills.")


It's surprisingly weird-feeling to write characters and punctuation one by one, alone in their boxes. For one thing, you get some kindergarten déjà vu. For another thing, we always write in chunks (words, sentences, and so on) and don't think much about letters. 

In the middle of the process, you might doubt it'll still look like your handwriting once it's assembled—but our money says you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Step 6: Hand-Fill Your Template Page(s)

This step mostly explains itself when you have the printed page(s) in front of you. The only advice we'll add here: if possible, you should use a soft-tipped pen or marker, no matter how fine or broad, so that the ink is dark and fully legible.

With a ballpoint or other extra-fine pen, there's a hazard that your lines will be too light and thin, and that the scan won't fully grab them. The compromise: use your normal pen(cil) to fill out the template, then come back and trace over your letters with more ink.


Step 7: Scan Your Handwriting into Calligraphr

The first task here is getting images of the pages you've just completed. If you have a scanner, that's your best bet—after all, that's the exact purpose of a scanner. Look at you, so prepared and professional.

But if you're like the rest of us, you don't have a scanner. You have a smartphone. Fortunately, smartphone cameras can do powerful stuff now, so long as you feed them the photographic essentials. When you're taking pics of your letters:

  • Provide good and plentiful light. Photos taken in the dark are low-contrast and blurrier (because the camera's shutter has to slow down to get enough light) and those are both problems for capturing glyphs clearly. The ideal is indirect natural sunlight—full and bright, but not glaring. Indoor lights can work too... just fiddle with it. 
  • Make sure your shot is level. If you take tilted photos, you're going to get distorted subjects. Conveniently, the iPhone now has a handy Camera leveling feature: when you're standing over a shot, you can see two small "+" marks in the middle of your screen, and you'll know a shot is level when they line up together. 

Now you've got your scans (or equivalent smartphone photos) — time to upload them to Calligraphr! 

The upload process itself is pretty quick: just tell Calligraphr whether to auto-clean your template (usually "yes") and, once you've popped in your images, it'll load up all of your letters individually. 

At this point, you can get as deep in the details as you want—and we'll say more about those details in a minute. But for now, let's finish our first font!


Step 8: Export, Install, Start Typing Your Handwriting

Assuming all your glyphs are accounted for, without major issues, go ahead and export. Your export options are .TTF and .OTF — we'd recommend OTF since it's the more robust format (and is needed for extra features like automatic ligatures), though for free users there should be no difference between the two.

Once you've downloaded your font's TTF or OTF file, just double-click and it should install itself very quickly. 

And you're done! Most applications with font options should have your handwriting selectable, by whatever name you gave the font. If you don't see your font available after you've installed it, just restart your computer (or the specific application you're using) and it should show up after that. 


I want more. What else can I do?

Calligraphr's sample fonts were created, no doubt, by people who took this tool's capabilities and ran with them. You can do the 15-minute version (as we've covered here) just for kicks, and for free—but if you're willing to pony up eight whole dollars, you can do way more with Calligraphr. 



Here's the other stuff you can do, ordered from "just checking my work" to "I want to conquer the font world"—

  • Inspect and adjust your characters more carefully. You can always tweak the character scans in your font if something is wobbly. 
  • Add characters to your existing font. If you started with a Basic set, you can always go back and add non-essential characters to fill it out more like a real font.
  • Create variants of your existing font. Everyone else has a Bold option... why shouldn't you?
  • Randomize your existing font. This is where things start getting tricky. Obviously, your handwriting is consistent but never perfectly so—and your Calligraphr font can approximate this. By uploading a separate handwritten template into the same font, you can give Calligraphr another variant for each glyph, and it'll use those variants to "mix up" how your typed handwriting appears. You can repeat this several times over if you wish.   
  • Add ligatures to your font. When we print by hand, things run together sometimes—and these natural ligatures are noticeably absent when a computer smashes together our handwritten letters. But this doesn't happen everywhere in handwriting—only in certain combinations of letters. Calligraphr's ligatures feature lets you fill out a template specifically for combinations of glyphs... once scanned into Calligraphr, your font can automatically use those ligatures to look more natural.     
  • Make more fonts! The font anyone can make here is their own everyday handwriting. After that, your imagination is the only limit... start over and make something totally different!


Every Code&Quill is like its own adventure:
You enjoy as you go, but you'll want another when you're done. 
Start your own virtuous cycle here!


If you make your own font, feel free to show us how it turned out! Just tag us wherever you post it on social media, or leave a link in the comments, or send us an email ( 


If you're in the market for a notebook, head on over to our store!
If you want more than one, check out our discounted notebook bundles!
If you just wanna say hi or look at pictures, come see us on Facebook or Instagram. 


Most people think the world is moving away from handwriting, but it isn't.


Sure—handwriting is slower and messier.  
True—you can't really format by hand, and you certainly can't edit.
And yes—it's nice to imagine your life's notes perfectly manicured in the cloud. 

But on National Handwriting Day, we're making a stand for pen and paper. There's merit to handwriting that no app, word processor, or program can touch.

So today, here are five ways we all write by hand, and why they're all useful and irreplaceable . . . even if you don't have pretty handwriting.    


Careful Handwriting

In short, this is how you write for important people. This is the way you write a note asking (for instance) for money or favors.

This is what you use when you're writing a letter to the King of England like "bye George, we got it." If your words will be starting a war, please print neatly. 

And if you win the war, continue printing neatly for your Constitution; people are going to be looking at it for a long, long time.  




Thus, the first special value of handwriting: historically speaking, handwritten documents are much more interesting than their printed counterparts. That seems true whether you're examining world history or your own history.



Normal Handwriting

This is how you write under normal conditions — neither rushed nor deliberate. This is how you might take notes in class or write in a journal.

You know what's satisfying about normal handwriting? Normal handwriting fills pages. That's how you get to the end of an idea: just writing it out and NOT stopping to edit.

No matter how you write, full pages ALWAYS look better than empty ones. =] 



Especially when full, you see that a page full of your writing can only look like you. A thousand other people could write out an identical passage and you could pick out your own in no time.


What is this, school? #codeandquillcreative#nationalhandwritingday#dnd5e#dnd

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More to the point: give a thousand people a complex problem and tell them to work it out in a notebook. The solutions will vary endlessly—showing that how you write says a lot about how you think. 

How do you "think on paper"? See whether you'd like our classic dot-and-line layout—or whether the Monolith's new dual-line layout might suit you better.


Click here and here to see how other Code&Quill users think on paper.
Click here (or below) to pick out the best Code&Quill notebook for your own thinking.


Chicken Scratch

Quick! Grab a pen! Write down this phone number before it's lost!

You know that feeling? That's what comes before chicken scratch. 

Or whenever you're jotting down a three-item list.
Or working out some quick mental math.
Or giving yourself a reminder for later. 

The cruel irony of chicken scratch is that the most urgent information is likely to be written this way, yet it's the handwriting that's most difficult to read.



It's possible, for example, that many people with messy handwriting are left-handed people in a right-handed world. Either way, a person's chicken scratch is the purest stream-of-consciousness you'll see — sometimes it reads like nonsense later, but that shorthand is someone's brain hurrying to make a point as efficiently as it can.



Cursive is class — in part because it's a dying skill. Not many lament its passing anymore—for one thing, it's not easier to read. For another, it's rarely as pretty in practice as it is in theory. 



Cursive is like the Isla de Muerta of handwriting: you only know how to get there if you've already been. You have to practice (and care) a lot. But how sweet it is when someone knows their way around a calligraphy nib, right?

We just like using fountain pens, really. Can't hold a candle to that!  

Special & Doodling 

Some people doodle. Some write bubble letters. Some draw arrows or diagrams.


Whatever your talent, it's the cherry on top of your handwriting—so let it be there with your notes, or presiding over them. 

Don't forget, too, that some notes are worth sharing. Maybe the ones you write and draw and doodle in your notebook are just for you—but send one to someone else now and again.



If it's a personal touch with your pen, it's a personal touch with your words, too.

(One final note... the better the tools, the better the creative. Arm yourself with the best tools to bring your ideas into the world. Check out the Code&Quill notebooks now.)




Wrapping close-up

The holiday season is upon us, which means gift-giving season is upon us. Everyone loves gifts, right? Of course we do. There is something special about this time of year simply because so many people are exchanging gifts. Of course everyone loves opening gifts, but there’s also something gratifying about picking something out carefully and then having another person love and appreciate it when they see it. But there’s one part of giving gifts that always feels like a chore, and that’s figuring out how to present them.

In time, we've found ways to make the holiday gifting process easier. The former spectre of doom for holiday gift-givers—the time-consuming shopping and traffic—got way easier to manage because, well, It’s great: you get an idea for what to get someone, you buy it online, you avoid all of the nightmarish holiday traffic, and the gift shows up at your door hidden in an anonymous box. You could do all of your holiday shopping in a brisk hour.  

But no matter how you get the gifts, you still have to wrap them before you give them. It’s almost never suave to hand over your gift bare. So this week, we're going to run down the simple and fun ways you can wrap (or not wrap) your gifts this holiday season. 

First, Why We Wrap Gifts

In two words: presentation matters. Presentation is the difference between "tasty grub" and a Michelin star. Presentation is the difference between a successful, funded startup pitch—or walking home. Presentation is the difference between no-name’s novel and New York Times bestseller—because, let's face it, we do judge books by their covers.


Book stack

In the case of a gift, the presentation is the wrapping. It’s the effort we expend, as the gift-giver, to officially mark the item as a gift, to allow the recipient the suspense of opening it, and then to have the item revealed to them freshly, at their own pace. So, when it comes to giving gifts, the presentation is the difference between a fun, genuine gesture of affection and “I bought this thing you might like.”

So wrapping is a step we can’t really skip. It requires a personal touch. But if you wanted to consider some twists on wrapping gifts—or some clever evasions of wrapping—read along. 

Old-School Wrapping

Wrapping gifts is like braiding hair or tying a Windsor knot; it’s just a good skill to have, whether for yourself or someone else. That’s why classic gift-wrapping gets first mention here. There are plenty of gift-wrapping guides online, such as here. People have already made diagrams and YouTube videos and stuff; we'll let them explain for us. 

What we'll add to the discussion is this: don't be shy about using alternate materials, and don't be shy about adding garnish to your own taste. The latter point mostly explains itself: once you've got the "base" wrapped gift, what you do afterwards is entirely up to you. If you can tie bows, get a reel of ribbon and go crazy. If you find some stick-on bows or ornaments you like, use (and re-use) those consistently. Whatever your style, wrap your gifts that way; if you're going to the effort to do it well, there's no etiquette on how to do it correctly.

On the former point, about alternate materials—you can try everything from parcel paper to leftover fabrics to drawstring bags (though the latter starts to spill over into our next method of wrapping). "Alternate materials" is usually the product of household scrapping with a sharp pair of scissors, so take inventory (start with pillowcases and junk T-shirts) and get inventive.  

One of our favorite wrapping-paper alternatives is newspaper. (Some people might think this cheap, in an Uncle-George sort of way, but that's just because Uncle George wrapped up crappy gifts with the Obituaries.) Newspaper has an excellent texture for unwrapping gifts, and creative use of a newspaper's layout and photos can result in some beautiful, funny, or timely gift wraps. And each wrap is sure to look different from the last. (To wit, we're releasing one original newspaper gift-wrap photo each day in December on Instagram, at least until Christmas.)

Pros: This is the classic way to do it, and you get classy points for wrapping a gift well. Well-wrapped gifts are concealed completely, and the recipient can have the satisfying experience of tearing it open like the bear we all wish we could be.

Cons: Can be extremely difficult to wrap larger or oddly-shaped objects, and bad wrapping jobs can give away the gift in some cases. The most physically tedious way to prepare most gifts. Consistently time-consuming; becomes soul-crushing if you have to wrap more than three items in a row.

Gift Bags and Tissue Paper

Another classic choice. Some might call this the choice of the lazy, but give the gift bags their due: they serve the purposes of presentation quite well in many cases.

Gift tags and twine

We probably don’t need to explain how this option is managed. You get a bag; you put your junk in the bag (along with some tissue paper to conceal it); you have someone open the bag. 

Pros: A respectable lazy person’s choice—dignified-looking but low-effort. Bags also accommodate oddly-shaped or hard-to-wrap gifts better, and they’re better for giving multiple small gifts at the same time (since well-fluffed tissue paper can hide many things). Bags can be reused.

Cons: Doesn’t do well for heavier gifts or anything with an uneven weight distribution. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting the bag back to reuse it (and you shouldn’t expect it).

The Treasure Hunt

Probably everyone has given a gift this way at some point: instead of wrapping it, you place it somewhere out of sight, then have the recipient “find” the gift by following a series of clues. Sometimes this is the last resort of the supremely lazy; sometimes it’s necessary if the gift is otherwise impossible to wrap; sometimes it’s just the gift-giver's creative liberty.

Treasure hunt map

If you’re going to do this well, there are a few rules. First, try to save it for gifts worth the suspense, and not for the $5 DVD. Second, invest some effort in the clues, but not on making them harder; take the recipient to more oddly-specific places with the clues, or find ways to put the recipient in funny (but not uncomfortable) places. Third and finally, make the reveal as climactic as possible; the goal is to create the same moment of pure surprise as tearing open paper, as opposed to the “oh, there’s the thing, is that my thing?” if you just have the item sitting there at the end.

Pros: Saves you having to wrap the gift. Can be more fun in certain company. Allows you to present the gift "prepped" and in its element, rather than cold in the box. Allows you to present any smaller, related gifts along the path of clues to the ultimate gift.

Cons: You still have to invest effort to make it fun and interesting. Potentially a lot of effort, if you're the type to get carried away. Can only justify it for select gifts.

Chekhov’s Gift

In writing, Chekhov’s gun is a literary device where an important item is visible all throughout the first act, but not used until the second act. So Chekhov’s gift would be a sort of Usual Suspects way to give a gift: you show up with the item completely unwrapped, plainly visible, and you eventually surprise the recipient by telling them it’s theirs.

Chekhov's gift, AKA "JK it's yours"

This doesn’t work for many gifts, as many typical gifts wouldn’t naturally "blend in" with you at the occasion the gifts are being exchanged. This also doesn’t work without a decoy gift to present as “actually theirs” (though, all you really need for the decoy is an envelope). But, in some cases, this tactic can work surprisingly well—such as, for instance, when the gift is a duplicate of something you already have that the other person also wants. If you can find a sensible way for “yours” to be there, all you have to do is bring a decoy gift with a message in it, then hand over the real gift when the moment comes. 

Pros: Saves you having to wrap the gift. Allows you to have some harmless psychological fun in the process of giving the gift. Can be an even greater surprise and joy if played correctly.

Cons: Relatively few use cases. Easy to screw up.


Pay Other People to Wrap Gifts for You

We’re not judging you at all. For some people, this is totally worth the money, and for many of those same people, the gifts wind up being wrapped better this way anyway (again, not judging). Regardless, because gift-wrap service is a legitimate option sometimes, we'll take a moment to acknowledge it properly.

We imagine lots of people will flock to for their holiday shopping. On Amazon, you can pay between $4 and $6 to have them gift-wrap an item with paper, ribbon, and a custom message. One Redditor’s report about his low-quality wrap job from Amazon was reported by a handful of outlets, but the other posters on Reddit made Amazon's gift wrapping sound like a quality service overall.

Numerous other online retailers offer gift-wrapping options as well. While these might be attractive options, you have to consider—based on your own circumstances—whether it’s worth the money and, specifically, whether it’s worth the risk that your packages might arrive later or with a subpar wrapping job.

If all else fails, maybe talk to your friend Mary. She's enterprising; you'll pay her a per-gift rate; maybe she can make some good pocket money this holiday season. Everyone wins. 

Failing that, no one said bath towels and duct tape made for an elegant wrapping job—but they do conceal that toaster oven fully, don't they? 

Last week on Ampersand, the Code&Quill blog, we enumerated our company's blessings and thanks in commemoration of Thanksgiving, so take a look here if you missed it. If you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter at the foot of the page.


One shameless postscript—we describe wrapping more than three items in a row as "soul-crushing." Yet we're willing to wrap 30+ Origin notebooks for this month's Instagram feature. That's because the Origin's box is, like, super-easy to wrap. It's a workable size, it's rigid, and it holds shape well. It's convenient that those Origins also happen to make great gifts, especially our remaining Limited Editions. OK, we're done now.